We live in curious times. Vinyl records are being sold in the same quantities as in the 90s and for the first time, they outperformed the streaming option in profits. Listening to music with a turntable can be an extremely pleasurable experience but it requires a little bit of knowledge and investment to get a really good sound from the records. Here are some recommendations:
There is some convincing data: the sale of vinyl records reached a record during 2016. There hasn’t been so many sold in the last 25 years: more than 3.2 million records, 53% more than in 2015, comparable to the sales numbers from 1991.
2016 was also the year that consumers spent more on vinyl than on digital downloads. In a world of streaming music, it is an upward trend fueled by having large physical objects, with sleeves that we can see and that transport us to the place where the music wants to take us.
What is true is that the death of one of the greatest musicians of our time was one of the reasons why record sales increased so much (the top seller is Blackstar by David Bowie, along with other albums of his like The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust, Hunky Dory, Nothing Has Changed and Changesonebowie), but all the same, there is no question that it is a rising trend.
Vinyl has also outperformed CDs. Bands are beginning to notice more earnings with analogical music than with digital music and this is noticeable in both merchandising that can be obtained in their concerts or in the special edition versions of new albums.
But like everything that has to do with music, in order to really take advantage of a vinyl experience and the supposed musical quality they offer, it is necessary to choose the right components, equipment and accessories. Otherwise, we will hear poor quality music and, even worse, run the risk of damaging our vinyl collection. A poor quality needle usually results in noise and poor definition in the analogue audio. Likewise, a turntable without sufficient damping can scratch the disc.
The vinyl world is exciting, but be advised: we´re returning to a time of technology with movable parts, something which we have moved on from, justifiably so, because this technology is prone to errors, faults, breakages, and many more failures.
Your first record player should not cost less than 200 dollars
Let’s start with the bad news. Your first record player should not cost less than 200 dollars. This is both a psychological and price barrier that you have to overcome if you want to get really good sound. The internet is filled with recommendations of inexpensive turntables as a viable option to start down the vinyl audiophile path.
We strongly recommend not buying a cheap player, for the reasons mentioned above: they are often responsible for bad sound, they can lead to a bad first experience and ruin your vinyl collection. We also strongly recommend not buying a player that comes with extra components. These are gimmicks more than anything useful. There are some that come with an integrated CD or MP3 player, or a memory card slot. That emulate vintage designs, in the hope of pleasing the eye. As with a bad restaurant in a tourist area, the best bet is to avoid these types like the plague.
Once you’ve come around to the idea that having a good quality player involves investing a little, it’s time to talk about good quality components from brands that have been involved in the business for decades and some newer companies that are involved in innovating the vinyl world.
Turntable for 300 dollars or less
In the 200-300 dollar range, there is a very good selection of high-quality players that will last you years. These are not products that will stop operating well in three or four years, they´re components in your music arsenal that will last decades, provided you give them the necessary care.
Our first recommendation is the Audio-Technica AT-LP120. This Japanese brand has been making products since 1962 with an excellent quality/price ratio. It has a classic, unpretentious design, good weight and USB output to transfer to digital audio files (don’t do it unless you use FLAC, but that is a discussion for another day) or listen to speakers with USB input.
Another recommendation of ours is a brand that is doing interesting things in the world of the turntable. We’re talking about Pro-Ject, who have a different take on component design, all the while maintaining sound quality and construction. The Pro-Ject Essential II is available for 250 dollars.
The Pro-Ject Essential II has components of the very highest quality, Sapphire bearings arm and a construction suited to a German brand.
Turntables for 500 dollars or less
Slightly raising the price range options significantly increases the quality available with products of the highest quality and good brands.
Our first recommendation is a brand that is little known by the public in general but that has fascinated vinyl audiophiles for years. The brand Rega has produced the Planar since the 70s, increasingly improving the product. For 670 dollars, the Rega Planar 2 can be yours. Excellent material and probably the best sound quality in the price range.
At a slightly cheaper price is the Onkyo CP-1050, a better-known brand at a general level and a high-quality product. Whats curious about this player is that it has direct transmission without the use of belts. The design, construction and choice of materials are very seventies, which is likely to appeal to many. It is particularly silent and stable.
Finally also recommended is the Audio-Technica AT-LP5, the premium version of the AT-LP120 we recommended above. For the price of this turntable, there is nothing like it. The quality/price ratio is very high as it tends to be with this brand. The construction is extremely robust, the sound is excellent and it comes with a USB port in the event that you need to transfer sound to digital.
Don’t forget a good amplifier and speakers
Your player won’t be of much use if you don’t have a good amplifier and speakers. This is another world of recommendations, opinions, distinctions between good, really good, and the excellent. There are expensive amplifiers and some that are very cheap but work wonderfully.
In 2014 we explained how to create a streaming Hi-Fi system for less than $150. Many of the recommendations set out there at that time are still very valid today. Particularly the Dayton Audio DTA-1 Class T, an amplifier that costs just $25. The problem is that it tends to be difficult to acquire in some countries and that leaves it open to some serious price mark-up.
The Lepai LP-2020A + seems to perform miracles for 30 dollars, no kidding. Easy to get at Amazon and in many cases it may be enough to get started with a turntable at home.
If you are willing to invest more money, an amplifier with many more functions that will help you to connect with other devices is the Cambridge Audio CXA60 for 749 dollars. The cheaper alternative to an amplifier of this type is the Onkyo A-9010 for 230 dollars.
There is also a world of recommendations and price ranges in terms of speakers. On the cheaper side is the Dayton B652 Audio available for $40.
On the other side is the Audio Bronze 2 that tends to be known for its good quality and price among audiophiles.